Etymology: "They" (long)
juengling_fritz at SMTPGATE.SALKEIZ.K12.OR.US
Thu Jan 10 16:23:32 UTC 2002
intersting note. About 4 or 5 years ago there appeared a book, based on someone's dissertation I believe, that is a description of 'all' the pronouns in all the Germanic languages. It came out about the same time that I was investigating pronouns. Unfortunately, I do not remember the author's name nor the exact title of the book. I want to say it was 'stephan' somebody, but I am not sure about that. The title is predictably something like "The Pronouns of the Germanic Languages." I think it may have been published by de Gruyter. Have you seen this book?
I'd be interested to see your paper
Incidentally, in the one other extant manuscript of
La3amons Brut, from later in the century, there is NO preterit plural, and
so there is no single "feminine/plural" form as in the example.
How does it read?
What seems to me to be a good "source" candidate, an improvement on the
Danish theory, is that it is one of the developments of the same lexical
item that gives us "the" - a demonstrative from WITHIN the language. (The
"þe" orthography is an article, personal pronoun, demonstrative adjective,
demonstrative pronoun, relative, and also a second person object!!) The "þe"
pronoun as a singular is often translated as "who". Why not just call it
singular "they"? It is many times, especially with plural or uninflected
verbs, easily interpreted as the relative, "that", and often interchangeable
with it with no loss of meaning. Why not call it the incipient "they".
The theory here presented, "they" as native and a duplet with "the", also
offers to explain the SINGLE NUMBER morphology of "they".
Interesting idea. I do not believe I have come across this before. Have you been able to find 'þe' used as 'they' (i.e.nom, pl, sentence subject--that last one is crucial!)? You will also need to explain the modern pronunciation with the diphthong [ei]. I do not think 'þe', if stressed and it were a long vowel, would have rendered the diphthong; we would have [þi:] (that's really voiced, but I cannot produce the voiced symbol). "They" as a single is, of course, very old--at least Early Modern English, but I am not sure when we find its 'first' occurrence. Is it as old as Piers? that would be an interesting investigation.
Whatever you may think -- whether edified, entertained, or exasperated -- of
the various observations made above, please note that I have never had an
opportunity, since I spent several years doing this work ten years ago, to
present, vent, or discuss it with anybody having a knowledge of the subject
area, or the technicalities involved -- and it's a heartfelt cathartic
experience that I will have had been able to tell it before turning to dust.
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